x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Harlequins in the shadow of Manchester City

But of the rugby union club side win the Aviva Premiership, it will not go unnoticed in Abu Dhabi, writes Paul Radley.

The Harlequins, seen here during their game against Toulouse, have had a successful season. Adrian Dennis / AFP
The Harlequins, seen here during their game against Toulouse, have had a successful season. Adrian Dennis / AFP

Do not expect the fanfare to be quite so pronounced. Sky News will not be cutting to Abu Dhabi for reaction.

Newly converted supporters will not be donning their quartered shirts and singing "Championes! Championes! Ole, ole, ole!" along the Corniche. Not even if their star overseas player jinks up the field in a final stopwatch-beating play for a heart-stopping score to clinch the title over the Manchester United of rugby.

But if Harlequins do emulate Manchester City by being crowned the best side in England in the oval ball code tomorrow, their success will definitely be shared by a small corner of Abu Dhabi.

The London club's ties to the capital do pre-date those of City, after all. Back at the start of 2008, England's Harlequins signed an understated associate agreement with what was then the only rugby club in Abu Dhabi, over a steak meal at Chamas in the Intercontinental Hotel.

The link was initially forged the previous year, on the back of Etihad Airways becoming the club's sponsor, granting them the right to daub their logo on roof of a stand at their Twickenham Stoop ground, right under the London Heathrow flight path.

A few months later, European football blanched at the eminently more spectacular news that Manchester City suddenly had new owners, and a new Robinho to boot.

The rise of the sky blue moon since then has been macro-scale news. The rugby relations, by contrast, have been happily thriving on the micro level.

The parent club have done much for the game here, regularly sending players over to coach, and even hosting some Abu Dhabi schoolteachers at their own training ground to enhance their coaching credentials.

Success on the field arrived faster for one than the other. Abu Dhabi's Quins - no longer the Bats, as they were pre-2008 - won two of the three major domestic competitions last season, and went close in the other.

Nine of the 22-man UAE squad in South Korea for the final Asian Five Nations fixture tomorrow have been contributed by the club.

For most of the past four years, the Abu Dhabi version have had the better of the deal, but the original Quins have belatedly flourished under Conor O'Shea, their director of rugby, winning the Amlin Challenge Cup last year.

Now the London version are on the brink of being crowned the best side in England, with their Aviva Premiership play-off final against the Leicester Tigers tomorrow. And a small corner of a field in the desert will be with them.


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